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Its India's right to buy S-400 purchase from Russia: Jaishankar

WASHINGTON, Sept 30: India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who is on a three-day trip to Washington DC, on Monday defended India’s right to buy a missile defence system from Russia despite the threat of sanctions from the United States.

The minister said India was discussing the US concerns but declined to forecast the ultimate decision on the fate of the S-400 purchase from Russia.

“We have always maintained that what we buy -- the sourcing of military equipment -- is very much a sovereign right,” he told reporters ahead of a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“We would not like any state to tell us what to buy or not to buy from Russia any more than we would like any state to tell us to buy or not buy from America,” he said.

“That freedom of choice is ours and we think it’s in everybody’s interest to recognise that,” he said.

Last year India agreed to buy five S-400 systems for $5.2 billion, and Russia has said that delivery is on track.

Under a 2017 law, the United States imposes sanctions against countries over “major” arms purchases from Russia due to Moscow’s military involvement in Ukraine and Syria and alleged meddling in US elections.

In June, Turkey angered the United States by also going ahead with an S-400 purchase.

President Donald Trump responded by ending Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 fighter jet program but has yet to announce other sanctions.

Jaishankar hailed warm relations overall with the United States but underlined India’s differences with Trump’s hawkish stance on Iran.

The United States has threatened sanctions to force all countries to stop buying oil from Iran as it seeks to curb Tehran’s influence in the Middle East.

In May, the Trump administration ended waivers for countries including India, formerly a leading customer for Iranian oil

“We view Iran from the east, and from the east Iran has been a very stable, status quo power,” Jaishankar said.

For India, “we’ve been repeatedly assured that the affordable and predictable access to energy will not change,” he said, declining to comment further on discussions on Iran.

India has been teaming up to expand Iran’s Chabahar port, a way to ensure a supply route to Afghanistan that bypasses Pakistan, New Delhi’s rival and historic ally of the Taliban.

Turkey building naval warship for Pakistan: Prez Erdogan

ANKARA, Sept 30: Turkey has begun work on building a naval warship which will be sold to Pakistan as part of a deal signed in 2018, a media report said on Monday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement during a ceremony on Sunday to mark the commencement for the construction of the warship named MILGEM, Geo News reported.

“I hope that Pakistan benefits from the the naval warship that was being provided to it by Turkey,” the report quoted him as saying during the ceremony.

Pakistan Navy Commander Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi and Erdogan cut the first metal plate of the first of the four MILGEM Ada class corvette during the ceremony.

While two corvettes will be built in Turkey, the next two will be built in Pakistan through technology transfer.

MILGEM vessels are 99 metres long, have a displacement capacity of 24,00 tons and a speed of 29 nautical miles.

In July 2018, Pakistan Navy had signed a contract for the acquisition of four MILGEM-class ships from Turkey.

Erdogan impressed upon the audience that Pakistan-Turkey relations had great potential for cooperation in the field of defence production.

According to Erdogan, Turkey is one of only 10 countries worldwide that is able to build, design, and maintain warships using national capabilities.

Erdogan also commissioned a new naval warship into the Turkish Navy on the occasion and hailed the warship building capabilities of the Turkish defense industry.

Blasts mark Afghan Afghanistan presidential election

KABUL, Sept 28: Insurgents worked to disrupt Afghanistan’s presidential election Saturday, with a series of blasts reported across the country as voters headed to the polls and troops flooded the streets of the capital.

The vote marks the culmination of a bloody election campaign that is seen as a two-horse race between President Ashraf Ghani and his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive.

The Taliban, who unleashed a string of bombings during the two-month campaign, in recent days issued repeated warnings they intend to attack polling centres.

At least 15 people were wounded in the southern city of Kandahar when a bomb went off at a polling station about two hours after voting began, said a hospital director, and officials across the country reported several small explosions at other election sites.

“Peace is the first desire of our people,” Ghani said after casting his vote at a high school in Kabul.

“Our roadmap (for peace) is ready, I want the people to give us permission and legitimacy so that we pursue peace.”

Wary authorities placed an uneasy Kabul under partial lockdown, flooding streets with troops and banning trucks from entering the city in an effort to stop would-be suicide bombers attacking the electoral process.

One voter at a polling station in a Kabul high school said it was important to cast a ballot.

“I know there are security threats but bombs and attacks have become part of our everyday lives,” 55-year-old Mohiuddin, who only gave one name.

“I am not afraid, we have to vote if we want to bring changes to our lives.”

The capital’s traffic, often gridlocked, dropped to a trickle as schools and offices closed for the day and as many people chose to stay off the roads.

Some 9.6 million Afghans are registered to vote, but many have lost any hope that after 18 years of war any leader can unify the fractious country and improve basic living conditions, boost the stagnating economy or bolster security.

Abdullah and Ghani both claimed victory in the 2014 election -- a vote so tainted by fraud and violence that it led to a constitutional crisis and forced then-US president Barack Obama to push for a compromise that saw Abdullah awarded the subordinate role.

Sunawbar Mirzae, 23, said she chose to brave the polls because she valued her right to vote.

“The only request I have from the election commission is that they ensure the transparency of the election because lots of people have lost their trust,” she said.

Voting in Afghanistan’s fourth presidential election began at 7:00 am (0230 GMT) at some 5,000 polling centres across the country. Authorities had initially planned to open hundreds more but were unable to owing to the abysmal security situation.

Campaigning was hampered by violence from the first day, when Ghani’s running mate was targeted in a bomb-and-gun attack that left at least 20 dead.

Bloody attacks have continued to rock Afghanistan, including a Taliban bombing at a Ghani rally last week that killed at least 26 people in the central province of Parwan near Kabul.

The interior ministry says 72,000 forces will help to secure polling stations.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said: “Any acts of violence against the electoral process, including attacks directed at polling centres, polling staff and voters, are unacceptable.”

Election officials say this will be the cleanest election yet, with equipment such as biometric fingerprint readers and better training for poll workers to ensure the vote is fair.

Still, the US embassy in Kabul has said it is “disturbed by so many complaints about security, lack of an equal playing field and fraud” and many Afghans say they have no intention of voting, citing fraud and security fears.

Saturday’s poll was initially slated to take place in April, but was twice delayed because election workers were ill-prepared, and the US was leading a push to forge a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban.

That deal has been scuppered for now after US President Donald Trump pulled out.

Taliban cut off Safiullah Safi’s finger for voting in 2014, he defied them again

KABUL, Sept 28: The Taliban cut off Safiullah Safi’s right forefinger for voting in 2014. That did not stop the businessman from doing it again.

Safi’s act of defiance in Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential elections on Saturday sparked admiration after a photo of the 38-year old was posted on Twitter showing his missing right forefinger and the left one stained with indelible ink, indicating he had voted.

Braving the threat of militant attacks and delays at polling booths, Afghans cast their ballots in a major test of the Western-backed government’s ability to protect democracy.

The Taliban regime was overthrown by US-led forces in 2001. But the Islamic insurgency is now at its most powerful since its defeat, violently disrupting the nascent democracy’s elections and carrying out gruesome, often deadly retribution on those who take part.

During the 2014 presidential vote, Taliban fighters cut off the fingers of at least six voters.

“I know it was a painful experience, but it was only a finger,” Safi said by telephone. “When it comes to the future of my children and country I will not sit back even if they cut off my whole hand.”

Safi described how in 2014 he had cast his vote and a day later travelled from the capital Kabul, where he lives, to the eastern city of Khost, his finger marked by the ink from voting.

“The Taliban took me out of the car and away from the road where they set up a court,” he said.

“They cut off my finger, asking why I had taken part in the election despite their warning... My family told me to not do it this time, but instead I took them all to cast our votes.”

The show of resistance was warmly met by Afghans on social media, many of whom fear a return to Taliban rule and the end of democracy and hard-won freedoms.

“He voted in support of democracy and for saying no to the Taliban system,” said Twitter user Kabuli.

In the parts of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban, a larger territory now than at any point since 2001, voting is especially fraught with danger and turnout tends to be very low. The insurgents shut down many voting centres in a show of their authority.

India slams China for Kashmir comment at UN, takes jibe at PoK road project

Sept 28: India on Saturday pointed to the “illegal so-called China Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” to criticise China’s reference to Jammu and Kashmir at the United Nations.

The spokesperson of the external affairs ministry Raveesh Kumar said China, which is a close ally of Pakistan, is well aware of India’s position that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are an “integral part of India and that the recent developments are entirely a matter internal to us”.

“We expect that other countries will respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and desist from efforts to change the status quo through the illegal so-called China Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” he said.

The $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which connects Gwadar Port in Balochistan with China’s Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The corridor is one of the flash-points in ties between India and China.

India has repeatedly expressed concerns about BRI, largely because of CPEC, which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and the uneven playing field created by China for President Xi Jinping’s flagship connectivity project.

Kumar’s comments came in response to the reference made by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh in his address during 74th session of the UN General Assembly.

Wang said that the “dispute” should be peacefully and properly addressed in accordance with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions and the bilateral agreement.

“No actions that would unilaterally change the status quo should be taken. As a neighbour of both India and Pakistan, China hopes to see the dispute effectively managed and stability restored to the relationship between the two sides,” he said.

India withdrew the special status of Jammu and Kashmir last month and bifurcated the state into Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, which will come into being on October 31.

India’s decision evoked strong reactions from Pakistan, which downgraded diplomatic ties and expelled the Indian ambassador.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had on Friday contended there would be a “bloodbath” when India eases restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir and warned the tensions between the two countries could escalate into a nuclear war.

India had nailed him on every single point from his speech while reminding him that his country was the fountainhead of terrorism.

Earlier this month, external affairs minister S Jaishankar had made similar comments saying China had “misread” India’s decision to nullify Article 370 that gave special status to Kashmir and dividing the state to two Union territories—J&K and Ladakh.

China had said that the decision to make Ladakh a union territory was “unacceptable”. India had rejected the criticism and said Ladakh was an “internal matter”.

Saudi Prince Salman says Khashoggi murder happened ‘under my watch’: Report

RIYADH, Sept 26: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince said he bears responsibility for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year by Saudi operatives “because it happened under my watch,” according to a PBS documentary to be broadcast next week.

Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, has not spoken publicly about the killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The CIA and some Western governments have said he ordered it, but Saudi officials say he had no role.

The death sparked a global uproar, tarnishing the crown prince’s image and imperilling ambitious plans to diversify the economy of the world’s top oil exporter and open up cloistered Saudi society. He has not since visited the United States or Europe.

“It happened under my watch. I get all the responsibility, because it happened under my watch,” he told PBS’ Martin Smith, according to a preview of a documentary, “The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” set to air on Oct. 1, ahead of the one-year anniversary of Khashoggi’s death.

After initial denials, the official Saudi narrative blamed the murder on rogue operatives. The public prosecutor said the then-deputy intelligence chief ordered the repatriation of Khashoggi, a royal insider who became an outspoken critic, but the lead negotiator ordered him killed after discussions for his return failed.

Saud al-Qahtani, a former top royal adviser whom it was reported gave orders over Skype to the killers, briefed the hit team on Khashoggi’s activities before the operation, the prosecutor said.

Asked how the killing could happen without him knowing about it, Smith quotes Prince Mohammed as saying: “We have 20 million people. We have 3 million government employees.”

Smith asked whether the killers could have taken private government jets, to which the crown prince responded: “I have officials, ministers to follow things, and they’re responsible. They have the authority to do that.” Smith describes the December exchange, which apparently took place off camera, in the preview of the documentary.

A senior U.S. administration official had said in June the Trump administration was pressing Riyadh for “tangible progress” toward holding to account those behind the killing ahead.

Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial in secretive proceedings but only a few hearings have been held. A UN report has called for Prince Mohammed and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found.

Jacques Chirac, ex-French President who stood up to US, dies at 86

PARIS, Sept 26: Jacques Chirac, a two-term French president who was the first leader to acknowledge France’s role in the Holocaust and defiantly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, died Thursday at age 86.

His son-in-law Frederic Salat-Baroux said that Chirac died “peacefully, among his loved ones.” He did not give a cause of death, though Chirac had had repeated health problems since leaving office in 2007.

Chirac was long the standard-bearer of France’s conservative right, and mayor of Paris for nearly two decades. He was nicknamed “Le Bulldozer” early in his career for his determination and ambition. As president from 1995-2007 he was a consummate global diplomat but failed to reform the economy or defuse tensions between police and minority youths that exploded into riots across France in 2005.

Yet Chirac showed courage and statesmanship during his presidency.

India expects to get control of PoK one day: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Sept 17: Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) belongs to India, which expects to gain physical control over the region one day, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Tuesday against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

Terrorism is the only issue India is willing to discuss with Pakistan, and the world community understands that the changes made in Jammu & Kashmir are an internal matter and aimed at tackling issues such as cross-border terrorism, Jaishankar said, addressing his first news conference since assuming office to mark the first 100 days of the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) second term in government.

He also virtually ruled out meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan on the margins of the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York.

“Our position on PoK is, has always been, and will always be, very clear — PoK is part of India and we expect one day that we will have the physical jurisdiction over it,” Jaishankar said.

India’s August 5 decision to nullify Article 370, the constitutional provision that gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir, and to split the state into two Union Territories triggered fresh tensions with Pakistan. India has rejected the Pakistani leadership’s contention that the issue could lead to a war, and New Delhi has said Islamabad is using the matter to support jihad and cross-border terrorism.

“With regard to Pakistan, the issue is not (Article) 370, the issue is Pakistan’s terrorism. There is no change really,” Jaishankar said, asking which country would accept a neighbour openly using terrorism as part of its foreign policy.

“What should come on the table first is the terrorism issue, because that is the root cause of the state of the relationship,” he added.

At the same time, Jaishankar virtually ruled out the possibility of a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the margins of a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) foreign ministers’ meeting in New York, as well as between Modi and Khan.

Noting that Khan recently remarked that there was no point talking with India, Jaishankar said, “Part of the problem with Pakistan is it’s only been doing talking. It’s not been doing anything on terrorism. They think nice words are an answer to the real problem (which) is the dismantlement of this industry that they have created.”

Noting that Saarc was all about regional cooperation, which needs trade and connectivity and not terrorism, Jaishankar said: “If you were to look at the future of Saarc, which country is today actually promoting Saarc and which country is impeding Saarc? That is an issue which all of Saarc needs to reflect on and I’m pretty confident every other member knows what the answer to those questions are.”

The international community understood India’s objectives in modifying Article 370, and the government had the choice of continuing with policies of the past 30 years that hadn’t worked or “try to do things very differently and try to change the landscape and find more effective answers for a challenging situation”, he said.

Jaishankar was also dismissive of members of US Congress raising the Kashmir issue and alleged human rights violations, saying such matters were often raised by them because of lobbying by their constituents or others. He questioned whether members of Congress would be impassive about matters such as affirmative action, gender justice and universal application of laws, which is what the government hoped to achieve with its actions in Kashmir.

The international media, Jaishankar said, should take facts into account and not make “sweeping judgments on momentary impressions”.

The minister said most issued related to the Kartarpur Corridor, which will connect Dera Baba Nanak in India with the gurdwara built at the site in Pakistan where Guru Nanak spent the last years of his life, had been resolved and both countries were “moving in the right direction”.

Referring to New Delhi’s decision to accept consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, the Indian on death row in a Pakistani prison, despite conditions imposed by Islamabad, Jaishankar said India’s main objective was to seek access to him and to ascertain his well-being.

This was a step towards providing the remedy that was mandated by the International Court of Justice and India will continue trying to find a solution that “would bring an innocent person back to his country”, he said.

The Foreign Minister, asked about atrocities against minorities in Pakistan, said this wasn’t a new thing. “Here’s a country which is waxing eloquent about other nations. Look at their treatment of minorities, I think minority number has come down dramatically in last 70 years to a point where they don’t even put it out publicly anymore,” he said.

“What is happening now in Sindh (Pakistan) is not the only thing which has happened in the last 100 days. You also had cases of abduction of Sikh girls. I think if there is a human rights audit today in this part of the world I can pretty confidently assert who’ll come last in it,” the minister said.

Jaishankar’s comments come against the backdrop of minority community leaders increasingly speaking out against atrocities and human rights violations.

If there is “a human rights audit today in this part of the world, I can pretty confidently assert who’ll come last,” Jaishankar said, taking a sharp swipe at Pakistan.

The remarks came following the incident of Jagjit Kaur, 19, who went missing for a number of days, was found on Thursday after she was forcibly converted to Islam and made to marry a Muslim man. Daughter of Bhagwan Singh, a ‘granthi’ (priest) of Gurudwara Tambu Sahib, she was converted to Islam at gunpoint.

“Let me make it very clear for the record. There is an extradition request (sent in January 2018). We want Zakir Naik back and that is what we are working on,” said Jaishankar.

Jaishankar said the expectation that the controversial Islamic preacher should be extradited to India was communicated at the meeting of the two prime ministers earlier this month.

Jaishankar’s statement came in the wake of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday rejecting the claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked for the Islamic preacher to be extradited to India.

Indo-US ties on upward trajectory: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Sept 17: External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday said that Indo-US relations have come a long way and is in good health.

“India-US relations have come a long way. I assure you that relations are in very good health. As the relationship grows there will be issues. We’ve been talking to the US, my expectation is that the sharper edges will be addressed in the not too distant future,” he told reporters after a briefing to make 100 days of the Modi’s government’s second term.

Jaishankar played down differences over trade and insisted that Indo-US ties are on an upward trajectory. “The trajectory has always been upwards. As in any relationship, there are issues. The trade problems are normal with people you are closest to, since most trade happens with them.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit the US to address the UN general assembly. The minister also said US President Donald Trump attending the “Howdy, Modi!” event on Sunday in Houston along with Modi was a matter of great honour and an achievement for the Indo-American community.

“Regarding President Trump’s presence there (PM’s Houston event), I think it is a matter of great honour that he has chosen to come there, to accept the invitation from the community to be there.”

“I regard this as a great achievement of Indian-American community(PM’s Houston event). If today there’s an event of this size and you have President Trump coming there, it shows where that community has reached, how it is regarded in US,the respect it commands there.”

Asked if Modi’s meeting with Trump will carry a message for Pakistan, Jaihsankar said, “Countries develop a reputation. It is not just Pakistan the whole world will be watching. There are multiple messages and it is for the Pakistanis what they wish to read.”

On the face-off between Indian and Chinese troops near Pangong Lake in Ladakh, Jaishankar denied that there was a skirmish and said there are mechanisms to address such situations and in this particular case the mechanism kicked into play and addressed the situation.

“There was no skirmish. There was a face-off and it was resolved. It happened because there are differing perceptions of Line of Actual Control, patrols meet and sometimes that kind of situations happen,” he said.

India asks Pak to stop ceasefire violations in J&K

NEW DELHI, Sept 15: India said on Sunday it has conveyed to Pakistan its concerns over “unprovoked ceasefire violations” along the Line of Control (LoC) to support the infiltration of terrorists, even as tensions remain high between the two countries over New Delhi’s August move to revoke Jammu & Kashmir’s special status.

There have been more than 2,050 unprovoked ceasefire violations this year in which 21 Indians have been killed, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

Pakistan has sought to use the changes in Jammu & Kashmir, described by India as an internal matter, to internationalise the issue. Indian officials have rejected the Pakistani leadership’s contention that the matter could lead to war and accused Pakistan of using the issue to promote jihad and cross-border terrorism.

“We have highlighted our concerns at unprovoked ceasefire violations by Pakistan forces, including in support of cross-border terrorist infiltration, and targeting of Indian civilians and border posts by them,” Kumar said.

“We have repeatedly called upon Pakistan to ask its forces to adhere to the 2003 ceasefire understanding and maintain peace and tranquility along the LoC and IB (international border),” he said.

Speaking at Singapore earlier this month, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said India was willing to talk to Pakistan only if it was without “having the gun of terrorism pointed at our heads”, adding that most of the world had accepted that India’s move was an internal issue.

Last month, Parliament cleared the move to effectively revoke Article 370 of the Constitution, which conferred special status on Jammu and Kashmir, and Article 35A, which made government jobs and property ownership the preserve of people deemed to be its permanent residents. It also decided to split the state into two UTs — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

On Sunday, the external affairs ministry spokesperson said Indian forces were showing “maximum restraint and respond to unprovoked violations and attempts at cross-border terrorist infiltration”.

The remarks came on a day Pakistan summoned an Indian diplomat over skirmishes at the LoC on Saturday. It said Indian security forces at the LoC killed two of its soldiers in firing. Indian Army officials, who asked not to be named, said the Pakistan Army retrieved the bodies of its soldiers after raising a white flag.

India has in the recent past condemned what it says are provocative and irresponsible statements by the Pakistani leadership following the effective revocation of Kashmir’s special status. The Indian government has largely refrained from responding to these comments.

Pak minister admits funding banned terror organisation

NEW DELHI, Sept 12: Pakistan’s interior minister has accepted that Islamabad spent millions on global terrorist, Hafiz Saeed-run banned organization Jamaat –ud-Dawa (JuD) in an attempt to bring it to the “mainstream”. Minister Brig (R) Ijaz Ahmed made the comments on a Pakistani private news channel called Hum News.

“We have spent millions of rupees on JuD. We need to demotivate the members of the proscribed organization and bring them down to the mainstream,” Ahmed Shah was quoted as saying to Hum News.

Saeed-led JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that carried out 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Mastermind of the attacks, JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, was arrested on July 17 over charges of terror financing by Pak authorities and is being kept at the high security Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore.

Pakistan had said it had booked Hafiz Saeed and his 12 aides for ‘terror financing’ in 23 cases on the basis of “irrefutable evidence”.

Saeed, along with three others, was declared a terrorist by the Indian government on September 4. Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar, LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and fugitive underworld don Dawood Ibrahim are the other three designated terrorists.

These four men have been on the US list of designated terrorists for a long time, along with their respective outfits (with the exception of Ibrahim, who doesn’t lead a well-defined group such as the LeT or JeM); and since April 2018, on the UN Security Council’s blacklist as well, with Azhar being the last addition as the result of a US-led effort to overcome years of resistance from China, acting on behalf of Pakistan.

The US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Lashkar chief to justice.

Pakistan’s interior minister’s statement comes close on the heels of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan acknowledging the presence of about 40,000 terrorists--trained to fight in Afghanistan or Kashmir-- in terror camps spread across Pakistan’s big cities.

Khan had also said that the previous governments did not have the “political will” to act against the militant groups operating from Pakistan.

According to an intelligence dossier, action against terror outfits including Saeed’s JuD could be purely cosmetic, since Pak’s spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) plans to use JeM and LeT to create unrest in the Kashmir valley ahead of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session scheduled to open on September 17. A latest IB input said JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar was released secretly from protective custody to plan terrorist operations.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had said on September 8 that some 230 terrorists backed by Pakistan army and their spy agency had been spotted across the border.

Army chief General Bipin Rawat told recently that Pakistan had reopened terror training camps and attempted to push infiltrators. He said that the Indian Army was ready for any eventuality.

Pak minister, later in the show, also said that Islamabad lacked credibility in the eyes of the world and blamed the ruling elite for the situation.

“People do not believe us... in the international community. We say they (India) impose curfew and are not giving medicines to people of Jammu and Kashmir. People do not believe us, but they believe them. The ruling elite have destroyed the country. The ruling elite of this country destroyed the name. People thought we are not a serious nation,” Ijaz Ahmed said,

Ahmed’s statement comes roughly a month ahead of the Financial Action Task Force, or the FATF’s plenary in October. The Paris-based global anti-terror financing body may place Pakistan on the blacklist if Islamabad fails to meet the targets of a 27-point action plan.

Late last month, FATF’s Asia Pacific group found Pakistan to be non-compliant on 32 of the 40 compliance parameters. On 11 parameters, Pakistan was adjudged as low as 10.

Baloch activist says Pak Breeding ground of terrorists

GENEVA, Sept 12: Rogue state Pakistan is a breeding ground for terrorism, said a Samad Baloch, the Secretary-General of Baloch Human Rights Council, adding that the country has become a threat to the world and especially its neighbours.

“Pakistan is a breeding ground for terrorism. Pakistan is not only committing systematic genocide of Baloch people but also involved in the genocide of our Sindhi brothers, Pashtuns. It’s also a threat for the world because it is a rogue state, there is no law, no justice,” said Samad Baloch in Geneva. The Baloch activists are protesting in Geneva against Pakistan’s atrocities.

Earlier this week at the UNHRC meet in Geneva, Pakistan asked the UN human right body to ensure that India ends the restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir and restores fundamental rights and liberties in the region after the revocation of its special status on August 5. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had accused India of turning Kashmir into the planet’s largest prison and sought an international investigation by the UNHRC into the situation in the region.

India came out all guns blazing defending its decision to scrap Article 370 that gave special status of Jammu and Kashmir and rejected Pakistan’s right to speak on alleged “atrocities” and said Islamabad was misusing international platforms for its “malicious political agendas under the garb of human rights”. India also charged Pakistan of “blatant misrepresentation of facts and false narrative”.

Slamming Pakistan over false narrative on Kashmir, the Baloch leader added that Pakistan is committing “systematic genocide” of the minorities. He added that the aid provided to Pakistan by foreign countries and international organisations to combat terrorism in its soil is instead being used to build madrassas for funding illegal activities and train suicide bombers for carrying out terror activities in the region.

“The establishment sends their own sons and daughters to accomplish higher studies in western countries but brainwash our children to join the madrassas and spread jihad under false propaganda of seeking salvation,” the activist said.

Islamabad has reportedly been discriminating against its religious minorities which is manifested in various forms of targeted violence, mass murders, extrajudicial killings, abduction, rapes, forced conversion to Islam, etc., making the Pakistani Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadiyyas and Shias one of the most persecuted minorities in the region.

Last month, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada had raised the issue of suppression of religious freedom by Pakistan and slammed the country for “persecuting and repressing” their religious minorities.

Indian, Chinese troops’ face-off near Ladakh’s Pangong lake ends after talks

NEW DELHI, Sept 12: A face-off between Indian and Chinese armies was resolved on Wednesday near the northern bank of the Pangong lake, in the newly-formed union territory of Ladakh, after delegation level talks:

The stand-off started while the Indian Army was patrolling along the northern bank of the lake when the Chinese troops objected to their presence. A delegation level talks were held that helped de-escalate and fully disengage, army officials said.

Last month, Beijing had said it was concerned over India’s decision to revoke Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir, and added it was “unacceptable” that New Delhi had changed Ladakh’s status. India last month bifurcated Jammu & Kashmir into two Union territories -- Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. China is one of the few countries that has lent support to Pakistan on the issue.

China remains the “all-weather” strategic ally and one among the primary economic benefactors of Pakistan, which has been vocal in its opposition against India’s moves in J&K.

The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488 km Line of Actual Control (LAC). China also claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet.

Last week, India and China postponed the next round of border talks under the “special representatives” (SR) mechanism. Top officials from both countries had been expected to meet later this month in New Delhi for the 22nd round of the talks to resolve the long-standing dispute over the 3,488 km border.

The 21st round of the talks took place near the city of Chengdu in southwest China last November.

A solution to the Sino-India border dispute continues to elude the two countries after nearly 45 rounds of talks since 1960.

India rebuts Pak saying fabricated narrative from terror epicentre

GENEVA, Sept 10: India on Tuesday delivered a stinging rebuttal to Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Qureshi at the UN human rights body in Geneva, insisting that the statement made by Qureshi was a ‘fabricated narrative from epicentre of global terrorism’.

“One delegation here has given a running commentary with offensive rhetoric of false allegations and concocted charges against my country. The world is aware that this fabricated narrative comes from the epicentre of global terrorism where ring leaders are sheltered for years,” Vijay Thakur Singh, secretary (east) in the foreign ministry told the UN body.

“This country conducts cross border terrorism as form of alternate diplomacy,” she added, without once naming Pakistan in her brief but biting response where she first spoke about parliament’s decision to amend the law on Jammu and Kashmir in televised proceedings.

She stressed that restrictions, introduced to ensure security of people in Jammu and Kashmir from cross border terrorism, were gradually being eased. And then turned the focus back on Pakistan and terrorism, asking the 47-member human rights council and the international community to speak out against terror.

“Silence only emboldens terrorists. It also encourages their intimidatory tactics. India appeals to the international community to work together in the fight against terrorism and their sponsors.

In a pointed counter offensive targeting Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the senior Indian official asked the world to call out those misusing “this platform for malicious political agendas under the garb of human rights.

“Those who are attempting this speak on the human rights of minorities in other countries whilst trampling upon them at will in their own country. They cry victim when they actually are the perpetrators,” she said.

Vijay Thakur Singh’s steered clear of the specifics. But just a few hours earlier in India, a former lawmaker from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Baldev Singh, sent an SOS message to the Indian Prime Minister to seek political asylum. Not only are Hindus and Sikhs being “tortured” in Pakistan, Singh said, but even Muslims are not safe in the neighbouring country.

Outside the entrance to the UN building in Geneva, there was also a quiet protest with posters and banners highlighting the human rights transgressions in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The “#PakistanStopGenocide” campaign, a movement created by the Balochis seeks to rouse international support as they remain sandwiched in the middle of what they call is a Pakistani-sanctioned genocide, said extra-judicial killings, torture, and forced disappearances of rights activists had been key elements of the Pakistani state’s terror campaign against Balochistan.

In his statement a few hours earlier, Shah Mahmood Qureshi had focused entirely on Pakistan’s version of the events in Kashmir. Qureshi had accused India of turning Kashmir into the planet’s largest prison and sought an international investigation by the UNHRC into the situation in Kashmir.

When he emerged out of the UNHRC meet, Qureshi sought to summarise his argument on Jammu and Kashmir - which Pakistan describes as Indian-occupied Kashmir - for the television cameras. But he slipped up and described it as an “Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir”.

“India is trying to give an impression to the world that life has returned to normalcy. If life has returned to normalcy, then I say, why don’t they allow you, the international media, why don’t they allow international organisations, the NGOs, civil society organisations to go into the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and see for themselves what the reality is,” Qureshi said.

UNHRC asks India to end lockdown in J&K

GENEVA, Sept 9: The UN Human Rights Council urged India on Monday to end the lockdown in Kashmir and restore basic communications services.

Delivering the Opening Statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet noted the situation in Kashmir and Assam, where lakhs have been excluded from the National Register of Citizens, and asked the Indian government to respect civil rights.

“I am deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists,” said Ms. Bachelet, while addressing the 42nd Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC).

India ended the special status for the State of Jammu and Kashmir guaranteed under Article 370 of the Constitution and put the newly created Union Territory in a state of indefinite curfew. Following the declaration, UN Security Council held a special consulation on the situation in territory on August 16.

“I have appealed particularly to India to ease the current lockdowns or curfews; to ensure people’s access to basic services; and that all due process rights are respected for those who have been detained. It is important that the people of Kashmir are consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future,” said Ms. Bachelet.

The official also raised the issue of exclusion of 1.9 million nationals from the exercise of the NRC of Assam and said the process has caused great uncertainty and anxiety among the people.

She said, “I appeal to the Government to ensure due process during the appeals process, prevent deportation or detention, and ensure people are protected from statelessness.”

The official referred to an entire range of issues across the world but problems of human rights violation from India and Myanmar found greater attention. The global attention to developments in Kashmir is on expected lines and India was getting ready for a season of diplomatic blitz as Pakistan intensified its campaign against India after the August 5 decision on Kashmir.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan welcomed the comments from UNHRC and asked it to “set up the indepth investigation commission to probe human rights abuses” in the Indian territory.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has stationed a high-power diplomatic team led by India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria in Geneva for several weeks to explain the Indian position on Kashmir. Pakistan sent back Bisaria while protesting against India’s removal of Kashmir’s special status.

 

India looks to foil Pakistan designs on Kashmir at UNHRC

NEW DELHI, Sept 8: With a crucial UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session beginning on Monday, New Delhi’s aim is to ensure that Pakistan does not secure any outcome on Kashmir. Pakistani foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi personally leads the charge against India in Geneva from September 9 to 12.

The session lasts from September 9 to 27. If Pakistan wants to move a resolution, it needs to do so before September 19, which explains the intensity of its efforts as well as that of New Delhi’s preemptive measures.

According to diplomats and security officials based here, Geneva and New Delhi, while foreign minister S Jaishankar has personally contacted or visited each and every member of the 47-member UNHRC, national security adviser Ajit Doval has managed the internal situation in Kashmir. The government will stress the fact that not a single life has been lost in Jammu and Kashmir at the hands of Indian security forces. The vital political aspect of Kashmir is being handled by home minister Amit Shah.

The Indian counter at UNHRC, Geneva, will be led by secretary (east) Vijay Thakur Singh along with high commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria apart from other officials.

According to diplomats, Pakistan will first assess the situation before it either calls for an urgent debate or resolution at the UNHRC. If Pakistan moves for an urgent debate by writing a letter to the UNHRC president, then the matter will be put to a simple majority vote with absentees or abstentions not being counted.

The other option for Pakistan is to move a resolution citing alleged human rights violations in Kashmir, but this will also be put to vote. However, the matter is tedious as China and the UK (in the first round) took Pakistan’s side on August 16 at the UNSC. The eventual result, though was a knockout totally in favour of India with the US, France and Russia against the outcome.

Since the August 5-6 resolutions and laws that scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Jaishankar has been on the move, travelling to China, Indonesia, the Maldives, Belgium, Poland, Russia and Hungary explaining the Indian position on Jammu and Kashmir. He has engaged Indian Ocean rim countries and others including South Africa, Fiji, Australia and the Philippines over the phone to defeat Pakistani designs. He is currently in Singapore working away the phones as he has been tasked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to convince UNHRC members that Kashmir is an internal matter of India.

Hong Kong Protesters Ask Trump To 'Liberate' City, Sing US Anthem

HONG KONG, Sept 8: Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to Hong Kong streets on Sunday and marched to the US Consulate, urging American lawmakers to pass legislation in support of the territory's democratic aspirations.

The police-sanctioned rally and march through the city center had some of the trappings of a 4th of July parade, as protesters waved American flags and played the Star Spangled Banner. Demonstrators carried red, white and blue signs calling for President Donald Trump to "Liberate Hong Kong" and chanted: "Free Hong Kong, pass the act!"

As has happened in the past with the generally peaceful demonstrations, violence broke out at the end of the day. By early evening, groups of protesters had vandalized a main subway station in central Hong Kong that was closed by police earlier in the day and set a fire around one of its entrances. Demonstrators wearing face masks and helmets smashed station windows leaving glass piled on the sidewalk. They tossed street signs and emptied trash cans down the subway stairwells and began building barricades in the streets.

Later in the night, police fired repeatedly tear gas to disperse protesters in the popular shopping district of Causeway Bay.

A huge crowd of pro-democracy activists marched to the United States consulate in Hong Kong on Sunday in a bid to ramp up international pressure on Beijing following three months of huge and sometimes violent protests.

The pockets of violence continued two consecutive nights of clashes, despite Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's decision to withdraw the widely unpopular extradition bill that had originally sparked the months-long political crisis - a clear sign that her concession has been roundly rejected by the majority of pro-democracy protesters.

As dissent in Hong Kong - and the accompanying police crackdown - continues, Lam and her government will have to face the possibility of growing international criticism, particularly from the United States, where lawmakers have now returned from their summer recess.

Authorities have even targeted prominent activists who have not been at the forefront of the recent protests. Former student leader Joshua Wong, who is due to visit the United States soon to testify at a congressional hearing in support of the Hong Kong bill, was arrested at the city's airport while returning from a trip in Taiwan, he said through a legal representative on Sunday evening.

Wong was detained for "breaching bail conditions" following his arrest last month, but said this was because of mistakes on his bail certificate. He said he expected to be released Monday but called his overnight detention "utterly unreasonable."

Organizers handed a petition to a consulate official calling for the swift passage in Congress of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill that has bipartisan backing. This latest protest will likely draw the ire of Beijing, which has already accused the United States of meddling in the months-long political crisis and warned that Hong Kong is an internal Chinese matter.

Members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China reintroduced the bill in June, days after a million people marched calling for the extradition legislation to be scrapped.

The bill would require an annual review of the special treatment afforded by Washington to Hong Kong under the US Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992. This would include the trade and business privileges Hong Kong enjoys, separate from China. The legislation also calls for asset freezes and denial of entry into the United States for people found to be "suppressing basic freedoms" in Hong Kong.

"The Chinese government is breaking their promises to give freedom and human rights to Hong Kong. We want to use the US to push China to do what they promised over 20 years ago," said a 24-year-old protester who declined to be named. He wore a red "Make America Great Again" hat. "The US government can make China think: Do they really want to lose Hong Kong?"

Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, suspended the extradition bill in mid-June, but did not fully withdraw it until Wednesday. In the weeks between those actions, the protests expanded in intensity and scope to more broadly focus on Beijing's erosion of the "one country, two systems," framework under which Hong Kong has existed since it was handed back to China in 1997.

In an indication of the growing anti-China flavor of protests, demonstrators on Sunday carried posters and stickers depicting the Chinese flag with its yellow stars rearranged into a swastika.

Swastikas with the term "Chinazi" were also spray painted in the Central district.

Lam's concessions, which also included beefing up the independent police oversight committee, were met with hostility among protesters, who want her to meet the four other demands they have laid out.

Her move to fully withdraw the bill "was a public relations exercise vis-a-vis Beijing and Washington," said Andreas Fulda, the author of a book on efforts at democratization in China and a senior fellow at the University of Nottingham's Asia Research Institute. "Carrie Lam has every reason to be worried about a strong US response" when Congress sits again, he said.

The growing distrust and public animosity toward police was again evident on Sunday after dozens of police stopped and searched protesters on a glitzy stretch of road in the Central district lined with luxury shops. Bystanders jeered at the police, yelling "shame" and cheered when a group of tactical officers left the area.

"They think that this is perhaps a tactical retreat and a way to pacify the movement, but it is so evident that it doesn't address the elephant in the room, which is the militarization of the Hong Kong Police Force," he added.

Earlier Saturday, a second "stress test" was scheduled by demonstrators to disrupt transportation to Hong Kong International Airport but it was thwarted by police. Last weekend protesters caused massive traffic jams and rail delays on lines heading toward the airport. Police stymied Saturday's effort with officers in riot gear stationed at subway stops and ferry terminals as well as boarding buses to check for demonstrators.

"We are in a very urgent situation. We need all the support we can get," said Cody, a 30-year-old IT worker attending the march.

Those who are pushing for a stronger US government response on the situation in Hong Kong say Washington has several options, including tweaking language in the Hong Kong Policy Act in a way that would effectively limit government to government interaction and alter the US economic relationship with Hong Kong.

Conversations have been ongoing between lawmakers and members of foreign relations committees over the summer, as Congress has been in recess, and lawmakers have been watching further developments before deciding on how actively to push the bill when back in session.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said earlier this week that lawmakers should move to quickly advance the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said in an interview Tuesday that he would support legislation to "enhance" the Hong Kong Policy Act he helped to pass in 1992.

The push to pass the law has frustrated pro-establishment lawmakers in Hong Kong.

"Traditionally, these bills targeting specific countries, they are developing countries, with dictators in those countries," said Felix Chung, a pro-Beijing lawmaker who traveled as part of a delegation of Hong Kong lawmakers last month to Montana to meet with congressmen and senators.

"But Hong Kong has been so close to the US, economically and socially, it has never been a target of the US government, so why should they use such a particular bill to punish Hong Kong?" he added.

While leaders from both parties have been vocal in their support of Hong Kong's protesters, Trump has taken a largely hands-off response to the upheaval. Last month, he said Chinese President Xi Jinping could "quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem." Previously, he described protesters as "riots," a term used by Hong Kong authorities and a characterization protesters are fighting to have withdrawn as one of their demands.

Kurt Tong, who served as US Consul General in Hong Kong until this summer, said during a speech in Washington in late July that Hong Kong was treated as a "second-tier" issue by the administration, which put more focus on Iran, North Korea and the trade war with China.

Most countries understand Kashmir is an Indian issue: Jaishankar

SINGAPORE, Sept 6: Most countries view India’s decision to abrogate Article 370 in Kashmir as an internal issue and accept that countries do make such changes, foreign minister S Jaishankar said on Friday.

“They think it’s an Indian issue. They are aware, in part from the reactions, that Pakistan is saying some pretty strong things about it. The general sentiment is that if there are issues at all, India and Pakistan should sit down and sort it out,” the minister said at the HT-MintAsia Leadership Summit 2019 in Singapore.

Jaishankar emphasised the historical, governance and political issues at the heart of the Kashmir issue. “Article 370 was the only temporary provision of the Indian constitution. The word temporary means something comes to an end,” he said.

He also noted that the situation in Kashmir before August 5, when the Article 360 abrogation came into effect, was far from ideal, with police officers and journalists routinely losing their lives to terror.

Pointing to the socio-economic effects of what he called a ‘disturbed governance’ issue, he said, “It really constricted businesses. The kind of business energy you see in the rest of India was missing in Kashmir.”

On talking to Pakistan, he said that India has always maintained that it is happy to talk to Pakistan for issues between the two countries but “it must be done without having the gun of terrorism pointed at our heads.”

He also asked Pakistan to walk the talk. “What we hear from that side is they are willing to talk. Have you heard them say what they have done with the terrorists [in their own country]?” he questioned.

“Imran Khan has himself said he has 40,000 terrorists in his country and these terror camps are all in the big cities of Pakistan,” Jaishankar said.

“Today, the US has trade problems with everybody. That’s part of the policy approach. So, I am not very disturbed by the fact that we have trade problems,” the foreign minister said.

Jaishankar said that he believes most of the trade issues between the US and India can be resolved and he is confident that the two governments will be able to work their way through it.

Jaishankar said that India has a long history with Afghanistan. “It’s natural that we would be concerned about the direction of events there and we would like to influence the direction of events there,” he said.

However, the US has been fighting in the Afghanistan for 18 years – “a long time for anyone to wage a war” and it is clear that there is a certain amount of fatigue in the country.

He pointed out that the US itself is still internally debating the move and is negotiating with the Taliban and the Afghan government. What remains important, he added, is that the achievements of these 18 years are not jeopardised.

“I am not sure I’d call it a trade issue alone. I think trade is one part of it,” he said.

The US-China differences stem partly from one being a rising power and the other being an entrenched power and partly from two different value systems at work.

“For the moment, people are looking at uncertainty. They are looking at political uncertainty and they are looking at trade uncertainty. It has begun to impact supply chains to some degree. There are worries whether trade itself would contract. This is the world we live in,” he said.

The career diplomat said he remains optimistic and expects some sort of understanding to be reached between the two countries. “I hope [economist Paul] Krugman [who predicted earlier in the day at the same event that there was likely no resolution in sight] is proved wrong,” Jaishankar said.

“China would have its interests and approaches [in Southeast Asia], and we have ours. The beauty of this region has been its historical ability to reconcile [those two],” the minister said.

He said Southeast Asia is one of the two reconciliation hubs in Asia, with the Gulf being the other where China and India find their interests in harmony.

“If India is to grow beyond the confines of south Asia and to get global, I think the relationship with Southeast Asia and Singapore are very fundamental to that,” he said.

Modi extends $1 billion for Russia’s Far East

VLADIVOSTOK, Sept 5: India on Thursday announced a $1 billion line of credit for Russia’s Far East, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying New Delhi will march beside Moscow to implement President Vladimir Putin’s vision for developing the resource-rich region.

Modi made the announcement while speaking as chief guest at the Eastern Economic Forum in the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok, a day after he held an annual summit with the Russian president and the two sides signed a number of deals in areas ranging from energy to defence.

“Friends, to participate in the development of the Far East, India will give a line of credit of $1 billion. This is the first time India is giving a line of credit to a specific region in a country,” he said.

Noting that India’s Act East policy had helped the country engage East Asia, Modi said: “Today’s announcement will be the take-off point for Act Far East and I firmly believe this step will add a new chapter in our economic diplomacy.”

India wants to march shoulder-to-shoulder in Russia’s “visionary journey” to develop the Far East, which offers “historic opportunities” for his government’s plans to make the country a $5-trillion economy by 2024, he told the gathering that included Putin, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed and Mongolian President Khaltmaagin Battulga.

As part of preparations for his visit, Modi said, several union ministers, chief ministers of four states and 150 Indian businessmen travelled to the Far East and met their counterparts to boost trade. This resulted in the signing of some 50 business agreements worth $5 billion, and Indian firms are interested in areas such as energy, healthcare, skill development and mining, he said.

Vladivostok could serve as a springboard to markets in Northeast Asia and the Far East could unite the Eurasian Union and an “open, free and inclusive Indo-Pacific”, Modi said. India is working for a rules-based order that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity and without any interference in the internal matters of countries, he added.

Answering a question following about sanctions imposed on oil trade, Modi said there was a debate on how such measures affect the global economy.

“I understand there is a big debate on this across the world — that how much the country on which sanctions are imposed is affected. That is one thing, but because of the impact on other countries and, the world economy, there is deep concern and a debate on that across the world,” he said. Modi, who arrived in Russia on Wednesday for a two-day visit, is the first Indian PM to visit the Far East region.

Need wider G7-style group, with China, India, Turkey: Putin

VLADIVOSTOK, Sept 5: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia was ready to host a meeting of the G7/G8 group of nations, and would welcome a wider format featuring Turkey, India and China.

Putin, who was speaking at an economic forum in Russia’s Far East, said he could not imagine an effective international organisation without China or India.

Modi seeks extradition of controversial preacher Zakir Naik to India

NEW DELHI, Sept 5: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked Malaysian counterpart Dr Mahathir Mohamad to take steps to extradite controversial preacher Zakir Naik who is wanted in India for inciting terrorism and money laundering. It is not clear yet if the Malaysian premier gave any assurances but the two leaders decided that the officials will stay in touch on this issue.

“Both the parties have decided that our officials will stay in contact regarding the matter and it is an important issue for us,” Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters after Modi’s bilateral meetings ahead of the three-day Eastern Economic Summit. This is the second meeting between the two leaders, the first was in May last year when Prime Minister called on Dr Mahathir in Putrajaya.

Modi, who landed in the major port city of Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East yesterday, has held a string of bilateral meetings with world leaders. Early on Thursday, he also met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the multi-faceted ties between the two countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the discussions with Dr Mahathir Mohamad were focused on the multiple layers of the bilateral relationship with Malaysia.

India’s decision to escalate the pending extradition request for Zakir Naik to the level of the prime ministers is also designed to signal the importance that New Delhi attaches to action against Naik.

The polarising preacher has been on the radar of Indian security agencies for years but it was only after the men involved in the 2016 terror attack in Bangladesh’s Dhaka described Naik as their inspiration that the crackdown really started.

Zakir hasn’t returned to India since then and shifted base to Malaysia which has granted him permanent residency. But over the next year, Indian agencies have forced him to shut operations in the country and banned his NGO, Islamic Research Foundation, under the anti-terror law.

Just last month, Mahathir told state-run news agency Bernama that Zakir Naik could not be sent back to India because of fears for his safety. “If any (other) country wants to have him, they are welcome,” Mahathir said.

Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where Muslims make up about 60% of the population of 32 million. The rest are mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians.

But Naik got into some trouble last month after videos emerged last month where he said Malaysian Hindus were more loyal to the Indian prime minister, Hindus in Malaysia had “100 times more rights” than the Muslim minority in India, and that Malaysian Chinese were guests of the country.

That controversy had embarrassed PM Mahathir Mohamad who underscored that Naik was free to preach about Islam but should not speak about Malaysia’s racial politics. Three of his ministers had also demanded at cabinet meetings and in public statements that Zakir Naik be expelled.

Malaysian police had then grilled Naik for 10 hours and barred him from speaking at several events. Eventually Zakir Naik issued a public apology, insisting that his detractors had taken his comments out of context and added “strange fabrications to them.”

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says China ‘respects and supports’ scrapping of bill

HONG KONG, Sept 5: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Thursday that China “understands, respects and supports” her government’s move to formally withdraw an extradition bill, part of measures she hoped would help the city “move forward” from months of unrest.

In a press conference, Lam was repeatedly questioned on why it took her so long to withdraw the bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China despite increasingly violent protests, but she skirted the questions.

“It is not exactly correct to describe this as a change of mind,” she said.

She added that full withdrawal of the bill was a decision made by her government with Beijing’s backing.

“Throughout the whole process, the Central People’s Government took the position that they understood why we have to do it. They respect my view, and they support me all the way,” said Lam, dressed in a cream suit and looking less tense than a televised appearance the day before.

She withdrew the bill, which has plunged the Chinese territory into its worst political crisis in decades, on Wednesday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index surged more than 4% to a one-month high ahead of the announcement. On Thursday, the market was up 0.4% by midday.

Lam also announced other measures including opening a platform for dialogue with society to try to address other deep-rooted economic, social and political problems, including housing and mobility for young people, that she said were contributing to the current impasse.

“We must find ways to address the discontent in society and look for solutions,” she said.

The withdrawal of the bill was one of the pro-democracy protesters’ five demands, although many demonstrators and lawmakers said the move was too little, too late.

The four other demands are: retraction of the word “riot” to describe rallies, release of all demonstrators, an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality and the right for Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders.

Demonstrators were still calling for all demands to be met, with many placing emphasis on the independent inquiry. Lam said on Thursday that the independent police complaints council was credible enough to address the probe.

“We have all suffered from a humanitarian disaster caused by the government and police force,” said Wong, one of around 100 medical students protesting at Hong Kong University. Clad in gas masks, they formed a human chain shouting “Five demands, indispensable.” “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”

Further protests are planned including on Saturday another “stress test” at the airport, which was targeted by protesters on Sunday leading to clashes with police on approach roads and in the nearby new town of Tung Chung.

The official China Daily said the withdrawal of the bill was an olive branch that leaves demonstrators with no excuse to continue the violence.

The announcement came after reports on Friday and Monday revealed that Beijing had thwarted Lam’s earlier proposals to withdraw the bill and that she had said privately that she would resign if she could, according to an audio recording obtained by Reuters.

Lam leaves for China’s Guangxi province on Thursday afternoon.

Skirmishes broke out in some districts including the working class Po Lam late on Wednesday after Lam’s announcement, which came after a weekend of some of the most violent protests the city has seen in the past three months.

Police said a suspected petrol bomb was hurled at a luxury property in Kowloon district in the early hours of Thursday and the suspects fled on a motorbike. Local newspaper Apple Daily said the house belonged to Jimmy Lai, the newspaper’s owner, who was in the property at the time. Pro-democracy publishing tycoon Lai is an outspoken critic of Beijing.

The bill was seen as the latest example of what many residents see as ever-tighter control by Beijing, despite the promise of autonomy.

The former British colony was handed back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” administration which gave the city of more than 7 million people more freedoms than mainland cities, such as an independent judiciary - prompting the anger over the extradition bill.

The protests are the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rule since he took power in 2012. China denies meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs and accuses Western countries of fuelling the unrest.

Images of some of the fiercest clashes have been beamed live on television screens across the world, sending jitters across the international business community and leading to a large drop in tourism.

The Hong Kong government took out a full-page advert in the Australian Financial Review on Thursday saying it is “determined to achieve a peaceful, rational and reasonable resolution” and is resolutely committed to “one country, two systems”.

It ends the advert by saying: “We will no doubt bounce back. We always do.”

More than 1,100 people have been arrested since the violence escalated in June and Hong Kong is facing its first recession in a decade.

China has strongly denounced the violence and warned it could use force to restore order.

UK PM loses majority after MP defects to Liberal Democrats amid Brexit crisis

LONDON, Sept 3: The Boris Johnson government on Tuesday lost its slender majority of one in the House of Commons when Conservative MP Philip Lee defected to the Liberal Democrats over what he called the government “aggressively pursuing Brexit in “unprincipled ways.”

The development adds a new dimension to the Brexit-related charged atmosphere that includes an emergency motion to be voted on Tuesday night and courts in Scotland and England hearing challenges to the government’s prorogation of parliament.

Lee, MP from Bracknell, said: “This Conservative government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways. It is putting lives and livelihoods at risk unnecessarily and it is wantonly endangering the integrity of the United Kingdom”.

“More widely, it is undermining our country’s economy, democracy and role in the world. It is using political manipulation, bullying and lies. And it is doing these things in a deliberate and considered way. That is why today I am joining the Liberal Democrats”.

Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn jousted across the dispatch box when parliament resumed after the summer recess in a crucial week that will shape the ways in which the UK leaves the EU on October 31, with or without an agreement.

Besides the legal challenges, the Johnson government faces combined opposition backed moves in parliament and legislation designed to prevent it from leaving without an agreement, an option widely considered economically crippling and an act of self-harm.

The Liberal Democrats with an openly anti-Brexit, pro-EU stance has benefited considerably in recent elections and has become the party of choice of MPs of similar persuasion. Lee follows the former Tory MP Sarah Wollaston and ex-Labour MP Chuka Umunna in joining the party, which now has 15 MPs.

The Conservative party has been rocked with former chancellor Philip Hammond and others reacting with fury suggestions that Johnson as leader of the party would de-select them as candidates in the election if they voted with the opposition in parliament.

Officials briefed journalists that if the opposition bill seeking to stop a no-deal Brexit were to be passed, the government would quickly move a motion to hold a mid-term election. Such a motion would need Labour’s support since a two-thirds majority is needed to trigger the election.

October 14 is the date mentioned as the most likely for the mid-term election, which would be the third in the last five years, after the general election in 2015 and the mid-term election in 2017. However, much manoeuvring inside and outside parliament is needed before the election is agreed and announced.

In an interview seen as ‘extraordinary’, Hammond on Tuesday came down heavily on his party leader Johnson for claims that MPs concerned with the debilitating impact of a no-deal Brexit and who vote with the opposition would be de-selected as candidates.

He told BBC: “There’s a group of Conservative who feel very strongly that now is the time where we have to put the national interest ahead of any threats to us personally and our careers. I think there will be enough people for us to get this over the line.”

Hammond described claims by Johnson that negotiations were ongoing with Brussels on a possible agreement as “nonsense”, adding that de-selections would be “rank hypocrisy” given that eight serving cabinet ministers had defied the whip on Brexit votes in the past year.

“I don’t believe (they can stop me standing in the election). There would certainly be the fight of a lifetime if they tried to…I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church to a narrow faction,” Hammond said.

There was already talk of the possibility of another hung parliament if the mid-term election were held, since both the major parties – Conservative, Labour – have been haemorrhaging in recent elections, with parties with a clear Brexit position gaining substantially due to public ennui over endless debates and non-delivery of the 2016 referendum verdict.

China calls Hong Kong protesters “thugs” , the situation “grim”, Prez Xi calls it a “struggle”

BEIJING, Sept 3: China on Tuesday said a minority of “thugs” in Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous financial hub engulfed in pro-democracy protests for more than 12 weeks, were trying to turn it into an independent territory, adding it will not allow the situation to “continue unabated”.

Calling the situation “grim” despite positive developments, a government spokesperson added that Beijing firmly supports the city’s embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam, a day after an audio recording emerged where she says she wants to quit.

Beijing’s strong show of support for Lam and the sharp denouncement of the protests came on a day when President Xi Jinping said the country is entering a period where it faces “concentrated risks” - economically, politically and diplomatically - and the country must be able to fight and win against those who challenge China’s bottom lines.

Speaking at the Central Party School, Xi said there must be a “resolute struggle” against any risks and challenges to the party’s leadership, the country’s sovereignty and security and anything that threatens the country’s core interests, Reuters said in a report.

Xi said those struggles covered the economy, politics, culture, society, the environment, defense, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and diplomacy.

“They will become even more complex,” he added

In the context of the Hong Kong protests, China on Tuesday continued its show of support to the city’s top official, Lam.

“We firmly support Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam in leading the SAR (special administrative region) government,” Yang Guang, spokesperson for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China’s central government, said at packed a press conference on Tuesday.

Student-led protests began in Hong Kong – administered by Beijing under the ‘one country, two systems principle – in June over a controversial extradition bill but has evolved into wider pro-democracy protests since the bill’s implementation was suspended.

The large-scale protests marked by clashes between protesters and police are described by China watchers as the biggest since the Tiananmen movement shook the Communist Party of China (CPC)-ruled country in 1989.

“It should be pointed out that Hong Kong situation is still grim and complex. Violence and illegal activities have not been totally kept at bay. The small number of radical rioters have doubled down on their violent activities and committed outrageous crimes,” Yang added.

Yang said the protests “far exceeded the scope of normal assemblies and rallies”, add the incidents would be considered “violent crimes” in “any country, any region, or under any legal system.”

Yang said violent unrest “gravely endangered the interests” of the territory and was “not at all about expressing any political demands” but instead about “political intimidation” incited by external forces.

When asked whether the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in the city could be deployed under the Basic Law that governs HK, spokesperson, Xu Luying didn’t give a clear answer but said Beijing will not “sit idly” if the current situation continues.

“The central government will never allow the situation in Hong Kong to continue unabatedly…the central government will never sit idly by,” Xu said, adding that the PLA will safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty.

Kartarpur your ‘Madina’, Nankana Sahib is ‘Makkah’: Imran Khan assures on-arrival visas to Sikh pilgrims

ISLAMABAD, Sept 3: Kartarpur is the “Madina” and Nankana Sahib is the “Makkah” of the Sikh community, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said and assured that his government will issue multiple and on-arrival visas to Sikh pilgrims coming from India and other countries, according to media reports on Tuesday.

Khan said the government will provide Sikh pilgrims maximum possible facilities during their pilgrimage to the holy sites in Pakistan, the News International reported.

Addressing the International Sikh Convention at the Governor House here on Monday, the prime minister said, “I assure that you will be issued multiple visas...This is our responsibility. We will give you visas at the airport.”

Pakistan has decided to complete the process of issuance of visas to Sikh pilgrims by September 30 to facilitate their participation at the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in Nankana Sahib on November 12.

The visa process started on September 1. The move is not a favour, it was Pakistan’s obligation, the Saama TV quoted Khan as saying.

“Kartarpur is your Madina and Nankana Sahib is your Makkah. We (Muslims) can’t even imagine someone keeping us away from Makkah or Madina. This is a new visa regime so there may some obstacles initially, but we will facilitate you fully,” he said.

The convention was attended by Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar, federal and provincial cabinet members, and Sikh pilgrims from the UK, the US, Canada, Europe and other countries.

New Delhi and Islamabad have agreed that Pakistan would allow 5,000 Sikh visitors per day into the country through the proposed Kartarpur Corridor.

The corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib, which was established in 1522 by Sikh faith founder Guru Nanak Dev.

Kartarpur will also be the first visa-free corridor between the two neighbours since their independence in 1947.

Pakistan is building the corridor from the Indian border to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Guru Nanak, while the other part from Dera Baba Nanak up to the border will be constructed by India.

Pakistan has repeatedly said that the opening of the corridor will not be hit by the current tension with India that has escalated after New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

16 dead, 100 wounded in Kabul blast: official

KABUL, Sept 3: The toll from a massive blast claimed by the Taliban in Kabul has risen to 16 dead -- all civilians -- with scores more wounded, an official said Tuesday.

Monday night’s attack took place in a residential area near Green Village, a large compound that houses aid agencies and international organisations.

Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the blast was caused by a tractor packed with explosives that had been parked alongside a wall by Green Village.

“Sixteen killed, 119 wounded in last night’s attack,” Rahimi said, noting a search-and-rescue operation had lasted through the night.

Green Village is separate from the nearby Green Zone, a walled-off and heavily fortified part of Kabul that is home to several embassies including the US and British missions.

The Taliban claimed the attack, which came as US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul to discuss a proposed deal that would see the US withdraw troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent security guarantees.

Residents in the area around Green Village were furious that their neighbourhood, which has been targeted before, had been hit once again and blamed the international presence.

Locals set tyres on fire, sending plumes of thick, acrid smoke into the morning sky, and closed off a main road alongside the scene of the attack.

“We want these foreigners to move out of our neighbourhood,” said local resident Abdul Jamil.

“This is not the first time we suffer because of them... We don’t want them here anymore.”

India, Pak in heated exchange over Kashmir at Maldives summit

MALE, Sept 1: The deputy chairman of India’s Rajya Sabha and the deputy speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly were involved in a heated exchange on the situation in Kashmir while participating in the South Asian Speakers’ Summit in the Maldives on Sunday.

The exchange was triggered when Qasim Suri, the deputy speaker of Pakistan’s lower house of Parliament, commented during his speech that the “oppression” of the Kashmiri people cannot be ignored.

Suri said the world community cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the problems of the Kashmiris and that Pakistan’s Parliament stands with “all oppressed people”. He said the Kashmir issue should be settled in line with the UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

This prompted Harivansh Narayan Singh, the deputy chairman of India’s upper house of Parliament, to raise a point of order that was allowed by the Maldives Speaker Mohamed Nasheed.

Singh said: “We strongly object to the raising of internal matter of India in this forum. We also reject the politicalisation of this forum by raising issues which are extraneous to the theme of this summit.

“There is a need for Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism and all kinds of state support to the same in the interest of regional peace and stability.”

Singh described terrorism as the “biggest threat” to humanity and the world and said the gathering should unanimously decide not to allow Suri’s remarks to become part of the proceedings. He also pointed out Nasheed and Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) secretary general Martin Chungong had said the forum was meant only to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and strongly objected to Suri’s comments.

Quratulain Marri, a member of the Pakistani Senate, too raised a point of order and said the SGDs were also about human rights and again referred to “atrocities being meted out in Kashmir”.

Singh accused Pakistan of “genocide” that led to creation of a separate country and questioned Islamabad’s moral right to raise the Kashmir issue. Subsequent remarks by Singh and Marri were lost in the din as Nasheed and Chungong made efforts in vain to control the proceedings.

Tensions between India and Pakistan have spiked since New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5. Pakistan’s leadership has repeatedly sought to internationalise the changes in Kashmir, which India has described as a purely internal matter.

Senior lawmakers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are participating in the two-day meeting in the Maldives that is focused on achieving the SDGs. The annual summit was jointly organised by the Maldives Parliament and the IPU.

After Night Of Chaos, Hong Kong Protesters Target Airport, Block Roads

HONG KONG, Sept 1: Thousands of protesters blocked roads and public transport links to Hong Kong airport on Sunday in a bid to draw global attention to their fight for greater democracy for the Chinese-ruled city which is facing its biggest political crisis in decades.

Planes were taking off and landing, with delays, but trains were suspended and approach roads to the airport impassable as protesters erected barricades and overturned trolleys at the airport and in the nearby new town of Tung Chung.

Some passengers were forced to walk the last bit of their journey to the airport by foot, dragging their luggage behind them.

The MTR subway station in Tung Chung was closed and demonstrators smashed CCTV cameras and lamps with metal poles and dismantled station turnstiles. Police appeared to be running in all directions and made several arrests.

Thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters who had earlier gathered outside the city's airport, march on nearby roads as the key financial hub remains engulfed in political crisis.

Chek Lap Kok, built around a tiny outlying island in the dying days of British colonial rule, is one of the world's busiest and most efficient airports, reached by a series of bridges which were packed with traffic.

"If we disrupt the airport, more foreigners will read the news about Hong Kong," said one 20-year-old protester, asking not to be named.

Black-clad demonstrators targeted the airport three weeks ago, jamming the terminal in sometimes violent clashes with police and prompting some flights to be cancelled or delayed.

Police said protesters hurled iron poles, bricks and rocks on to the railway track near the airport station and trespassed on the track. By early evening protesters in the immediate vicinity of the airport had left, but protesters in Tung Chung remained.

"We have no idea how to leave. We're stuck," a masked protester said, as others looked for buses and ferries to get back home.

Sunday's demonstration comes after police and protesters clashed overnight in some of the most intense violence since unrest erupted more than three months ago over concerns Beijing is eroding the autonomy granted to the territory when it was handed back to China in 1997.

China denies the charge of meddling and says Hong Kong is an internal affair. It has denounced the protests and warned of the damage to the economy.

Tourist numbers have plummeted in recent weeks and international trade fairs cancelled as the territory faces its first recession in a decade.

China is eager to quell the unrest before the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1. It has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest.

Several hundred demonstrators also gathered outside the British consulate in central Hong Kong, waving Union Jack flags and chanting "God save the Queen".

Parts of the metro system ground to a halt as skirmishes spread to the subway on Saturday, with television showing images of people being beaten as they cowered on the floor behind umbrellas. Police said they arrested 63 people aged between 13 and 36.

Amnesty International said the metro violence should be investigated.

"Violence directed at police on Saturday is no excuse for officers to go on the rampage elsewhere," it said.

The latest protests came on the fifth anniversary of China's decision to curtail democratic reforms and rule out universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

The unrest began in mid-June, fuelled by anger over a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people in the city to be sent to China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

But the turmoil has evolved over 13 weeks to become a widespread demand for greater democracy.

The unrest poses the gravest challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.

Protesters have called for a general strike on Monday, but it was not immediately clear who would take part.

 
Cosmetic Dentist New Delhi India

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